Futures Institutes

I would like to start by acknowledging the Bedegal people, the Traditional Custodians of this land. I would also like to pay my respects to the Elders both past and present and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are present here today.

I also acknowledge Deputy Vice-Chancellors Professor Eileen Baldry Professor Brian Boyle, Professor Merlin Crossley, our external collaborators and partners, and members of our UNSW community.

Welcome, everyone.

This is an incredibly exciting day for UNSW and an important milestone in the UNSW Futures initiative.

These four UNSW Futures Institutes we launch today – Ageing, Cellular Genomics, Digital Grid and Material and Manufacturing – embody so much of what we set out to achieve through the UNSW 2025 Strategy.

When we first envisioned the Strategy in 2015, our priorities were: to drive academic excellence in research and education; to improve lives through advancing knowledge and understanding; and to achieve a positive global impact.

But consistent feedback during our Strategy 2025 consultation was that we needed to increase activity that cuts across the organisational structure and across disciplines.

It was an acknowledgment that solutions to the grand challenges of the 21st century will only be identified through more profound cross-disciplinary collaboration.

This is why we developed the UNSW Futures initiative, which provides a new framework for a suite of virtual research institutes will guide researchers towards that greater level of inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Up to $200 million will be invested in resourcing these Institutes which link areas of existing research strength to address a pressing global need.

A key criterion for funding is that proposals must cross disciplinary lines – a great incentive for researchers to think outside their research circles to consider potential new collaborators.

This isn’t to say that we, as a university, don’t respect the importance of individual disciplines, or that we don’t value the Faculty/School structure of our organisation. 

Our faculties and their schools are vitally important in ensuring the depth of knowledge we need to extend understanding in specific disciplines and – for the business people in the room – by focussing expertise, we can do this in an efficient way.

But, anyone who is trying to solve any of the myriad problems which our society faces will tell you that they do not fall neatly within faculty lines.

While excellent research is being done within individual areas, the UNSW Futures Institutes bring them together to look at the interrelationships between those disciplines.   

They will ‘gang up on the problem and not each other’ so to speak.

If you take the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute as just one example, it will bring together psychology, psychiatry, public health, art and design, built environment, risk and actuarial, human rights, economics and robotics.  

If we are to find the novel solutions we seek for society’s complex problems, we need a holistic view. Or, as Nick Fisk describes it an ‘inter-multi-trans-disciplinary’ approach. That seems to cover everything!

From a professional perspective, I have seen collaboration work to powerful effect in my work as a doctor, surgeon, researcher, charity worker, erstwhile entrepreneur and university leader.

I use very frequently the phrase ‘generosity in partnership’ to indicate not just the importance of partnership and collaboration, but also a conviction that being generous in the conduct of the partnership opens doors, generates mutual trust and, more often than not, returns greater benefits – social and economic.

It is the reason I am so keen for collaboration to be a feature of our research here at UNSW and the reason I am so delighted that we have developed the UNSW Futures Institute initiative.

We anticipate that this initiative will also help deliver on another component of our research strategy – attracting top-quality researchers.

The Institutes will complement UNSW’s existing Strategic Hires and Retention Pathways (SHARP) and Scientia Initiative programs which have already brought to UNSW more than 20 ‘star’ academics from around the world.

Of course, as well as recruiting externally, our strategy is to build on our track record of developing the careers of excellent researchers at UNSW.

We have invested $250 million since 2015 in new state-of-the-art technology platforms and facilities to enable our researchers to realise their full potential, with another $200 million in the pipeline for delivery by 2025.

Our flagship Scientia Fellowship Program is prioritising mentoring and career development for outstanding people at all levels.

And we are formalising our collaborations with other universities both locally, as part of the NUW Alliance – which comprises UNSW, the University of Wollongong and the University of Newcastle – and globally with our PLuS Alliance, which brings UNSW researchers together with King’s College London and Arizona State University.

Rethinking how we organise ourselves, putting structures in place so that our academics can collaborate in innovative ways, and investing in current and future talent, will be key to success.

The UNSW Futures Institutes will embed that necessary culture of generous and creative collaboration that will maximise our talent and can only result in better outcomes for the community we serve.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the UNSW Futures Institutes initiative was the overwhelming response to our highly competitive application round.

In Stage One of our application process, we received 41 expressions of interest for bold, new, interdisciplinary institutes.

I want to thank all our researchers who participated in this process and for sharing your big ideas with the Leadership Team.

We were incredibly impressed with the thought that had gone into the applications and we hope that, following feedback, many will succeed either in a future round or in other funding streams.

We also trust that the process provided opportunities for you to establish new cross-faculty partnerships, and we wish you all the best with these new ventures.

I would like to take this opportunity to also thank our faculties’ Associate Deans of Research and Deputy Deans of Research for helping coordinate many of the original proposals – you did an outstanding job in a short timeframe, and your collegiality during this process in helping your researchers make cross-faculty connections was greatly appreciated.

I would also like to thank our Deans and our Vice-Presidents, for reviewing the 14 shortlisted, Stage Two bids, and for advising the selection committee on these proposals.

And of course, I must thank our four Deputy Vice-Chancellors – Professor Nicholas Fisk, Professor Eileen Baldry, Professor Brian Boyle, and Professor Merlin Crossley – who were the selection committee for UNSW Futures Round One.

They read and assessed all 41 expressions of interest, and all 14 shortlisted full applications, and had the very difficult job of making recommendations to Management Board on which should be approved for launch.

Thank you all.

And now, we come to the much-anticipated moment when we launch our first four UNSW Futures Institutes: The UNSW Ageing Futures Institute, The UNSW Cellular Genomics Futures Institute, The UNSW Digital Grid Futures Institute and The UNSW Materials & Manufacturing Futures Institute.

To our inaugural UNSW Futures Institute directors, Professor Anstey, Professor Goodnow, Professor Dong, Professor Li, and all your teams, I wish you every success in achieving your grand visions and look forward to celebrating your successes over the coming years.

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